Should Your Remote Work Strategy Include Independent Talent?

Should Your Remote Work Strategy Include Independent Talent?

(This is the final article in the 3-part remote L&D strategy series)

In parts 1 and 2 of the series, we discussed why companies should have a remote learning strategy now and tips for overcoming remote learning challenges and choosing L&D tech tools. In this final part of the series, we’ll cover a sticky question. One that workforce trends are causing more companies to consider: should your L&D strategy include independent talent?

Teams are going hybrid

More businesses are increasing agility by leveraging independent professionals through hybrid teams. In a hybrid model, project teams are assembled with employees performing core, strategic work, and external talent, usually working remotely, handling specialized and periphery work.

Hybrid teams provide companies the skills to handle large, complex projects so they can innovate faster, launch new products in weeks instead of months, and extend capabilities. Bringing skilled people in right when you need them is an agile advocate’s dream. Anecdotes like how hybrid teams enable Nasdaq to become a digital media leader and the engineering team at PGA of America to complete projects 3x faster are no longer unicorn cases. Instead, they’re becoming a normal day at work.

Independent talent is so significant to a businesses’ success that 84% of teams say they would either delay, cancel, or extend project workloads if unable to engage them.

If your business isn’t utilizing hybrid teams now, or only doing it occasionally, trends show that usage will likely increase. This may affect how you build out a strategy now, that still supports the business effectively in the near future. Upwork’s own learning and development team offers a glimpse at how that may look.

Depending on independent talent

Upwork’s ultra-lean L&D team is made up of two full-time employees. To deliver the programs they want and at the quality they envision, they’re team also consists of an additional 6 talented independent professionals who support large and high visibility projects. Ramp up is short as the talent are already remote work experts. And projects may be completed at a higher quality as independent professionals are nearly 2X more likely to have reskilled in the past 6 months than employees.

The team reaches into the Upwork talent platform for skills in which many L&D functions tend to be under-resourced: instructional design, learning management system (LMS) administration, plus L&D administration and coordination. For example, Shari Cruz, an independent instructional designer, helped them create a leadership development program. She aided in structuring the 9-month experience, program branding, and creating program content including e-learning, presentation slides, facilitator guides, and other materials.

Working with external talent enables the team to work with a variety of specialists, from animators to artificial intelligence, to provide more engaging learning experiences and support stakeholders at a higher level. “We want experiences for learners to feel differentiated,” says Jason Weeman, head of learning and development at Upwork. “Having access to different talent allows for that. And it allows us to be more flexible with the skills we need based on the learning experiences we are building.”

By utilizing a hybrid model, the L&D team delivers more projects, incorporates the latest tech to increase training effectiveness, creates new offerings in a fraction of the time, and develops content that would otherwise get pushed down on the priority list as more immediate projects came up.

Is it time to redefine who’s remote?

As hybrid teams increasingly become a normal way of working, they could be viewed as part of your remote workforce. Especially individuals who are involved in longer-term projects. Which brings us back to the question posed at the beginning of the article: Should you incorporate independent talent in your L&D trainings?

While you must be careful not to treat independent contractors as employees, independent talent are still doing the work. So, if you want to support all of your talent, you may consider ways to extend support to independent professionals too.

“Independent talent are still doing amazing work that’s moving the business forward in these tough times,” says Weeman. “You may not be able to provide direct training, but you can still provide the thought partnership. Give them insights and direction into what might be valuable, or what could be a good resource for them to explore.”

He adds that in some cases, it’s also understanding what their needs are. Opening up those conversations, providing feedback, and demonstrating curiosity doesn’t mean you’re treating them as an employee. You’re just finding out what can help them be more productive, and “that should never be something we avoid,” says Weeman.


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Author Spotlight

Should Your Remote Work Strategy Include Independent Talent?
Brenda Do

Brenda Do is a direct-response copywriter who loves to create content that helps businesses engage their target audience—whether that’s through enticing packaging copy to a painstakingly researched thought leadership piece. Brenda is the author of "It's Okay Not to Know"—a book helping kids grow up confident and compassionate.

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